Once upon an innovation: How to create compelling impact stories and drive change

Why now is the era of impact stories

By Jane Aslanidis | Innovation Insights Series

Photo: WFP/Joerg Koch

In this global pandemic, what was already a challenging and risky endeavour for innovators, can feel even more so than ever before. The pandemic has created huge challenges on how to work, how to live, and how we connect with others. Now is the era of impact stories — the ability for an innovator to be bold, real and principled in their storytelling.

In recent mentoring sessions at the World Food Programme (WFP) Innovation Accelerator, innovators have asked the question, ‘How do I tell the story of my innovation?’

Storytelling is as ancient as humanity itself. I will never forget my great grandfather’s stories narrating about wars and hardship, food, agriculture, family, community and joy. His voice and expressions were magnetic, and his stories are still as sharp now as when they were told over 20 years ago.

As storytellers, we have the power to read and create images that carry our own vision with it. Imagery, art and creativity can create a language pattern, helping listeners to see concepts in different forms and recognize impact stories in any circumstance; even during a global pandemic.

An impact story is a powerful way to show the positive impact of your innovation on the community that it serves.

Impact stories are an important aspect to consider for the success of innovations in the humanitarian and development fields in the decade ahead. They enable innovators to do one or more of the following:

  • Share progress and the journey so far. This could be for fundraising, advocacy and digital communications activities.
  • Design and iterate. This could be to set a strategy, design for users, business modelling and implementing your pilot initiative.
  • Make better decisions. This could be for governance issues like strategy, risk, legals and financials, and to think about the power and decisions required of the community impacted.
  • Advocate for your community. This could be for users and reporting requirements, e.g. driven by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
  • Continuously learn. This could be to grow your team, fail forward, navigate complexity and influence the systems you are engaged with.

In returning to the question of how to tell the story of an innovation, I offer you a framework to use when you think about the relevance of an impact story. I have one tip from over 10 years of working in this field. Be proactive and fill in a framework like this today. It is urgent and important.

Now is the era of impact stories — the ability for an innovator to be bold, real and principled in their storytelling.

Your first draft is just that, a draft. You can change it, seek feedback and test and try it in different ways over time. The outcomes of this may empower you to feel secure, so that you can be creative, think of imagery, film and art, capture the right information, and ultimately, bring your vision to life.

Purpose. Write 1–2 sentences stating why you do what you do. Then answer three questions:

  • What is the range of users, sectors and stories you cover?
  • What time frame are you referring to?
  • What is out of scope? This one is helpful to narrow your focus.

Objectives. Define the 3–5 things that you aim to achieve through your impact story. Imagine that your innovation is on the front page of your local newspaper three months from today, or your local radio host is speaking about your innovation. Answer three questions:

  • What is the one sentence they use to describe your innovation?
  • What is the one fact or piece of data they reference?
  • What is the call to action the audience remembers? e.g. Is it awareness, education and knowledge, driving them to act or change behaviour or something else?

Target audience. Identify the most important audience group to your innovation. Be specific, things like the ‘general public’, ‘local community’ and ‘funders’ are too broad.

  • Can you name the tribe or organisation?
  • Can you list the 3–5 people or roles that have influence?
  • How do you plan to reach them? i.e. the communication channels.
  • What are the keywords or pattern language that they care about?

Take the time to specify these. They will change over time so make a note to revisit 2–3 times each year.

Ideal outcomes. What you plan for your target audience to take away after learning about your impact story.

  • What do you want your target audience to think, feel and do after learning of your impact story? For example, this could be clarity on your innovation, a roadmap of action to engage with you, or insights and inspiration from your work.

Innovators in their nature are visionary, bold risk-takers. They have traditionally faced challenges of resource scarcity — money, time, and awareness of their work. Now, with the global pandemic fundamentally changing the way stories are shared, we are truly in the era of impact storytelling.

Jane Aslanidis is a senior manager at Boston Consulting Group’s Centre for Public Impact focusing on international projects, and has been a consultant at the United Nations World Food Programme. A business owner, non-executive director and youth advocate, she has led community initiatives from the grassroots-up, and is now designing global initiatives. She served as a mentor to the innovators participating in the WFP Innovation Accelerator x Humanitarian Grand Challenge 2020 innovation acceleration weeks.

The WFP Innovation Accelerator sources, supports and scales high-potential solutions to end hunger worldwide. We provide WFP staff, entrepreneurs, start-ups, companies and non-governmental organizations with access to funding, mentorship, hands-on support and WFP operations.

Find out more about us: http://innovation.wfp.org. Subscribe to our e-newsletter. Follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn and watch our videos on YouTube.

Sourcing, supporting and scaling high-impact innovations to disrupt hunger.